The Washington Nationals pitching rotation is certainly not in need of any help at the moment. All five Nats starters have WHIPs under 0.95, all starters are in the Top 16 in FIP in the NL, and Stephen Strasburg has the highest Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in the National League. The rotation has a combined 1.82 ERA, oh, and the Nats are 12-4. It’s been a ridiculously good start for pitching from No. 1 through No. 5. So what will the team do when Chien-Ming Wang finishes his rehab starts and has to return?
According to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, Wang threw three innings of one run, five hit baseball on Monday. He also struck out three and walked none. Once he officially begins rehab starts, the Nats will have to add him to the team’s 25-man roster within a month, or another team could, and probably will, snatch him up. It’s the problem you want to have, but it’s still going to be a hard decision to make.
The only person in the rotation that could reasonably be removed from the rotation is Ross Detwiler. Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, and Gio Gonzalez are all the future of the rotation at the top, and Edwin Jackson is slated to make $11 million this season. However, it hardly seems right to even consider moving Detwiler anywhere after his performances so far this season. Through three starts so far, he’s putting up an insane 0.56 ERA, 8.44 K/9, and 64.3% of his outs come from ground balls. John Lannan, eat your heart out.
The Nationals have waited five years since drafting Detwiler to see something like this from him. It makes no sense to put a former first-round draft pick that has spent his whole career preparing to be a starter back in the bullpen when he’s finally shown you his full potential, even if it is in limited opportunities.
With seemingly no place for him to go it obviously begs the question, can Chien-Ming Wang be a long reliever? It may be a viable option for the Nats, whether it makes Wang happy or not. Despite being due $4 million, he still had unprecedented shoulder surgery just a few years back and seems to get hurt with some unfortunate regularity. Using him as a long reliever could keep him fresh in case a Nats starter gets hurt down the line, or for when Strasburg’s unknown innings limit is finally reached.
This is a very real and very difficult decision that the Nationals front office and manager Davey Johnson will have to make just a month or so from now. It’s possible that an injury could happen that will make the decision easier for the Nats, but no one wants that now. Not when people have seen what this Nationals team is able to produce. And you better believe the Nats starters want to make this decision really, really difficult for their bosses.